FIrefly: The Unification War

Despite the short run of the original series, Joss Whedon’s Firefly went on to be a cult classic and cultural phenomenon that has found continued life across media forms as numerous creators have added their voices to the ongoing story. (Whedon himself has faced a number of abuse allegations in recent years, so readers may like to know that he had no direct involvement with this volume aside from originally creating the characters.) Firefly: The Unification War Deluxe Edition is set alongside the timeline of the original show, combining an original story with a look back at the conflict which forever altered the shape of the Firefly universe.

From BOOM! Studios, The Unification War sees Greg Pak penning a new adventure for Whedon’s iconic characters as they scrape out a living on the fringes of an inter-planetary society divided along lines of resources and ideology. A seemingly simple protection job quickly spirals out of control when Mal and Zoe—captain and first mate of the Firefly class transport ship Serenity—find themselves wanted for alleged war crimes during the Unification War. Stranded on a hostile planet, caught in a web of ever-shifting partnerships and betrayals, and pursued by a fierce agent of the harsh Alliance government, the past they thought they had left behind comes crashing into the present. What began as a simple attempt to earn money and repair their grounded ship soon releases ripples that tear open the wounds of the failed fight against Alliance control and threaten to unleash another round of bloodshed on veterans and civilians alike. Through the eyes of new and familiar characters, Pak weaves together memories with an examination of the moral uncertainty of large-scale conflict and the scars it leaves behind. As best intentions drive everything toward an explosive clash, Mal and Zoe will be forced to reckon with their pasts if they are to have any hope of protecting the future.

The Unification War promises to reveal the untold story of the war that shaped both Mal and Zoe into the characters we now know from the show.  While it does deliver on this promise in part, the flashbacks we actually get are narrow and serve mostly to inform the present-day conflict of the comic’s central story. With plenty of page time for our favorite crew of misfits and filled with the banter that helped set the original show apart, The Unification War is a delightful return to the world of Firefly. Pak, along with a side story written by Josh Lee Gordon, demonstrate a clear familiarity with and love for the series in between section breaks decorated with quotes from the original series. There is a lot to love in the fast-paced and fun story told here—a story of crime and survival that ultimately finds its way into questions of humanity, morality, and the cost of violence.

Unfortunately, the opening promise of The Unification War is ultimately its weakest point. It delivers a fresh look into only a few moments of the war, reckoning more with the effect of the conflict than the actual events. And while there are plenty of strengths to the writing, a few key moments and the ultimate climax of the story feel out of character and out of continuity to what has already been established. The end result is a story that doesn’t quite deliver what established fans will be looking for—while also requiring a little too much familiarity with the larger universe to be fully enjoyed by readers new to the franchise.

Illustrated primarily by Dan McDaid, The Unification War delivers a rough and somewhat line heavy art style that is not out of place in the semi-lawless landscapes of the Firefly universe. With clear storytelling across action sequences and quiet moments alike, the artists serve to bring Pak’s story to life across nearly 400 pages of space-western adventure. Even as the central story transitions to the bonus chapters of backstory for new friends and old enemies, McDaid and the others capture the humor, desperation, and dark twists that this series has to offer.

Even as it deals with some more mature themes, Firefly: The Unification War can comfortably be read by older teens as well as adults. Grounded as it is in the larger universe, this volume will have the greatest appeal to existing fans of the show—but could serve as an entry point for anyone who enjoys science fiction or action and adventure comics with strong characters and themes as well as rich dialogue.

On the whole, The Unification War is an engaging new entry in the Firefly saga. It ultimately falls short on its promise to deliver the untold history of two of the series’ central characters, while also suffering from some unfortunate continuity missteps and a somewhat awkward open-ending. Its strengths are numerous enough that it’s worth the time of any fan looking for another romp alongside the crew of Serenity, and its shortcomings are not so glaring as to ruin the things the comic does well. The end result is a flawed but enjoyable adventure of war, survival, and found family that embraces the complexity, big themes, and fun mishaps that have made the franchise beloved by so many.

Firefly: The Unification War Deluxe Edition 
By Greg Pak, Josh Lee Gordon
Art by Dan McDaid
BOOM! Studios, 2020
ISBN: 9781684156023

NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18)
Creator Representation:  Korean-American
Character Representation: Neurodivergent,

  • Josh

    | he/him Technical Services Librarian

    Reviewer

    Josh Gauthier worked a technical services librarian in Maine before taking a detour into the tech field. He has a BA from the University of Southern Maine and an MFA from the Stonecoast creative writing program. Beyond his day job, Josh is also a fiction writer and playwright. You can find him discussing topics such as writing, comics, fiction, and pop culture on various social media platforms as @JG_Writer.

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